A Few Little Questions About Enforcement of Int’l Human Rights

by Deborah Pearlstein

Kristen’s last post concludes by opening the giant can of worms at the heart of international human rights law: “Farer’s analogy [between recent U.S. counterterrorism measures and Latin American practices in the 1980’s] shows weaknesses in the [human rights] compliance system generally…. [B]ecause it remains an issue of domestic competence as to whether human rights are enforced in the face of an emergency, international law must find incentives to effect compliance with human rights.”

The topic of incentives for states to comply with international law comes up regularly in conversations here at Princeton with my political science colleagues. In these conversations it seems easy to buy the argument for why, for example, international trade laws and institutions can have an effect on state behavior (to the extent they do). They’re structured around and depend on economic interests – incentives one can count on states to have and to act upon in one particularly reliable direction.

It is perhaps unfair to put Kristen and Tom on this spot on this rather enormous point, so of course all responses welcome. But if one excludes economic incentives from the box of tools one contemplates deploying in support of international human rights enforcement (and we can talk about whether or not this exclusion makes sense) – what incentives do you think would be plausibly effective? Or more to the point, what non-economic state interests do you propose to target in a way that makes international human rights enforcement regimes more effective than they currently are?